To Amazon or not? A guest post by Annette Cauchi

Children's author, Annette Cauchi

Self-published author, Annette Cauchi

Today, children’s author Annette Cauchi shares her experiences of self-publishing with Amazon KDP Select. Annette is an Australian author.

To Amazon or not? That is the question for any aspiring self-publisher

I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you about my experience as a first timer on the megalith that is amazon.com.

I published my first children’s novel as a Kindle ebook on Amazon at the start of December 2012, so my journey is still beginning. In this short time I have learned a lot, particularly as I knew less than nothing about ebooks or self-publishing when I decided to take the leap.

The first thing I did was buy a Kindle, so at least I knew how they worked. I got the basic model which is only black and white (or at least 50 shades of grey), but I believe the latest ones are colour. I would say that anyone who plans to read Kindle books to children, or wants to encourage children to read them, would be better off with colour. I am told that iPads display Kindle books beautifully, better than Kindles in fact, and overall are a lot more useful.

My book is aimed at children nine years old and older. It doesn’t have any pictures, so black and white is fine for now. I would actually like to include illustrations, perhaps of the simple line drawing variety, but I can’t draw and have no money to pay an illustrator. That’s okay though; words are my tools and I’m happy to stick with them.

One big appeal of Kindle Direct Publishing is that it’s very user friendly for the newbie and the technologically challenged. If you don’t want to include graphics you can simply upload your Word file and it will automatically be converted to Kindle format and published without you having to do anything. The downside of this simplicity of is that, in the absence of any professional oversight, the Kindle store does contain many examples of poorly-edited, uninspiring and amateurish books uploaded by wannabes unable or unwilling to reflect critically on their own pet projects.

There are a few essential requirements when preparing your MS Word file. They are clearly explained in the Kindle ‘Help’ section, and I learned a few things about MS Word in the process.

I asked my daughter, who has drawing and graphic design skills, to create my cover. A brilliant eye-catching cover is essential according to all the ‘how to be successful on Kindle’ guides that I’ve read (and that’s quite a few). I don’t know how mine rates, but I’ve had no negative feedback and I’m happy with it for now.

The next big decision was whether to enrol in Kindle Direct Publishing Select or not. There are advantages and disadvantages. Detailed information on this is available elsewhere, but put simply the benefit of enrolling in Select is that your book can be borrowed by Amazon Prime members, for which you receive a royalty that may be more than you would make on a sale. Also, as a Select member you can promote your book free for five days out of every 90. The downside is that you can’t publish electronically anywhere else during that 90 days, but you can publish hard copies and at the end of 90 days you can either opt out of Select or sign up for another 90 days.

Because it seemed simple, had potential benefits and I had no immediate plans to publish elsewhere I decided to enrol my book in KDP Select.

One big appeal of Kindle Direct Publishing is it’s very user friendly for the newbie.

So after setting my prices, distribution rights, categories and tags I hit ‘Publish’. A few hours later, there it was: my book available for purchase on the Amazon Kindle Store.

Okay, so now what? Who’s going to notice my little ebook among the millions on the Kindle store?

Obviously the first thing is to encourage family and friends to buy a copy. That was an interesting exercise. People showered their praise on me but not many actually went straight to their computer and bought the book. Fair enough, you can’t force people, but your friends and family are not going to make you successful on Amazon.

So what next? Back to the ‘how to’ manuals.  Rule number one: reviews and lots of them. One friend told me she only buys Kindle books with at least 50 reviews. In effect this means she only buys books from established authors, although I don’t think she sees it that way. Her view is that she wants value for money, and again that’s fair enough. We all want value for money.

Cover for How I Saved the WorldSo how do I get 50 reviews? This is where being in KDP Select comes in handy. I have five days where I can give away the book as a free promotion, and lots of giveaways should result in at least some reviews. So for five days over Christmas my book was available for free and resulted in over 1500 copies downloaded, of which more than half were on amazon.uk. This resulted in a total of three unsolicited reviews and increased sales in the following couple of weeks.

Now I have to resist checking my sales figures every hour and get on with what really matters: writing my next book. I have decided to write a sequel, purely from a marketing point of view.

It has been a genuinely interesting journey so far, and this has been a greatly abridged version of my experience. I do believe we are still at the beginning of the digital book era and I am optimistic that there is a future for me on Amazon Kindle.

Annette Cauchi is a writer and teacher from the Huon Valley in Southern Tasmania. Her first novel for children, How I Saved the World: Amazing Adventures of an Almost Superhero, has just been published as a Kindle ebook.

Click here to visit Annette’s blog.

Advertisements

My favourite writing research tools

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about technology I’ve been using to help me write. Today I thought I’d share my technological research tools. There may be something here you haven’t come across – or perhaps you’ve a great suggestion you’d like to share!

My favourite writers’ research tools

This year I’ve found myself using eBooks as well as print books for research. I rarely use my clunky old Kindle – but do use the wonderful Kindle app for the iPad. This sits on your iPad desktop like any other app but allows you to read Kindle eBooks.

I’m currently writing stories set in the late 18th-early 19th centuries, and on the Kindle store I’ve found lots of free literature written during this period. I lucked upon the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. It’s full of familiar words that have changed meaning over the years, as well as words that have disappeared. It’s like time-travelling, only through language. Classic books are all there. In fact any classic that’s out of copyright is likely to be on the Kindle store. This means I don’t have to keep my bookcases cluttered with paperback classics.

My only warning here is that many of the free Kindle eBooks are poorly-formatted. At least with freebies you haven’t spent any money.

(I hope this doesn’t sound like I don’t like spending money on eBooks! I do, cross my heart. I also buy picture book apps, which are those all-singing, all-dancing magic books. But this is usually for entertainment, rather than research.)

Another iPad app I use for research is the British Library Historical Collection. It’s a portal to their historical collection. There’s a lot there within my own niche area of interest that I can’t access at my local, the State Library of Victoria. And as it’s curated by librarians, the collection can be searched in a variety of ways. Even browsing is a lot of fun – perfect for inspiration.

Robert Fortune’s Two visits to the Tea countries of China and the British Tea Plantations in the Himalaya recently caught my fancy. Although The History of a Lump of Chalk by Alexander Watt sounds good too!

Nothing beats visiting the place in which you’re setting your story. If you can’t do that, there’s always Google maps. And major libraries have been busy digitising their collections – particularly useful for accessing maps, photographs – any sort illustrative material. This means I don’t have to visit the library in person. I can sit at home and view and print the material I need. I discovered the Alma Collection at the State Library of Victoria in this way. It’s material collected by Will Alma on the history of magic and magicians in Melbourne. There are hundreds of wonderfully atmospheric photos and posters.

Researching what’s hot and what’s not

If you’re like me and want to know what other publishers and authors are producing, there’s nothing like a spot of market research. Having lost 20% of bookstores in Australia in recent times, I’ve been backing up my bookstore research with online research.

On Amazon, you can search your region as well as new releases from the last 30 or 90 days. However, given Amazon’s less-than-generous terms for most publishers outside the US, this is probably not a representative sample for Australian publishing.

The Apple iBookstore is growing, and there is strong representation from Australian publishers. On the iBookstore you can download samples of every title for free. Unfortunately this doesn’t always give you a good indication of the title. With picture books in particular, I’ve found you can end up with a cover, the usual preliminary material, then straight to the ‘buy this book’ button. So not always a helpful guide. I should mention you do need an iPad or iPhone to access iBookstore.

I always find it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what particular publishing companies are publishing. These are companies who release similar material to what I write. On their websites, most book publishers have subscription-based e-newsletters where they’ll periodically announce their latest releases. If you ignore the spin, these can be useful for market research.

I haven’t signed up for it so can’t really comment – but I’ve heard Netgalley is a good way of seeing what publishers and authors are up to.

So that’s it for the technology I find useful for writing. If you’ve any suggestions for research tools, as usual I’d love to hear them!

Call-out for Christmas stories

Books a go-go call-out image

Books á go-go, a new Melbourne-based ebook publisher, is calling for submissions for their Christmas 2011 publication. The chosen story will be illustrated and sold on the Apple iTunes store as an enhanced ebook.

They’re looking for submissions that:

  • Are aimed at adults who enjoy reading children’s literature, as well as ‘kidults’.
  • Possess a child-like, magical or creepy charm. Think Neil Gaiman, Shaun Tan, Tim Burton or even Charles Dickens.
  • Use a Christmas setting or theme.
  • Fit into the genre of steampunk, magical realism, fantasy or science fiction. Above all, they want stories that are intriguing, entertaining and well-crafted.
  • Between 3,000-5,000 words.
  • Payment will be a $AU200 advance with 10% royalties. (The illustrator will also receive 10%.)

Preference may be given to stories by Australian authors.

The author will need to be available for some promotional activity between Oct and Dec 2011. (This could be online.)

How to submit your story

Send a pitch or synopsis of no more than 100 words, along with a 500 word sample in the body of your email, to: publisher at booksago-go dot com dot au

Please include:

  • Your full name.
  • Use or include an email address that you check regularly and is operational.
  • Your address and a phone number, including area code.
  • A pitch or synopsis of no more than 100 words.
  • A 500-word sample of your story.

Deadline for submissions

The deadline for pitches and samples is 5pm AEDT on Friday, 1 April 2011.

If your story is selected, you’ll need to supply your completed story by 5pm AEST on Friday, 22 April 2011.

Please note no submissions for this project will be accepted after 1 April, 2011.

Cat in plane illustration courtesy Basak Savcigil.